At the last full council meeting I was asked a question on road pricing by a student from Bulmershe. I was asked,
“You have recognised that we are in a state of climate emergency already, since declaring it as one, however it is clear that action is not taking place fast enough, and the issue is not being responded to as that of an emergency – Since Wokingham has the highest car ownership in the country, why hasn’t the current agenda mentioned congestion charges or road pricing?”
The answer I gave was,
You are correct. We do have the highest car ownership of any borough in the country. The thing that we have got to understand is that solving the carbon footprint that comes from cars isn’t going to happen by putting in place punitive penalties for people driving their cars. We need to understand why they are making those journeys in the first place. So we need to look at the way in which people commute around our Borough. How they get from their houses to stations, how they get from their houses to their places of work. We need to look at the way that you and your friends and your teachers get to and from school in a safe and appropriate manner. We need to look at the way that people do their shopping. We need to look at the way people make their leisure journeys around the Borough.
There are we things that we can do. The Council itself already has a policy whereby Officers are able to work at home on a certain number of days each week. This means less vehicles coming to this building, less people putting emissions into the atmosphere. We are going to be working with businesses in the Borough to deliver that objective through them as well using initiatives such as our Fit for Business event and using the communications that go out from teams within the Council.
There are other things that we can do as well. For example, the work of the My Journey team which will come and visit homes across the Borough and work through a personalised travel plan that will help reduce the number of vehicles used, the number of car journeys made and will help residents to use alternative modes of transport such as walking, cycling and using buses. We are building greenways to help cycling and walking become more commonplace in the Borough but the thing you have to remember is that, easy as it would be to put in penalties for people driving, it doesn’t solve the reason why they are doing it in the first place. That is what we want to do with this plan.
As a supplementary question I was then asked,
I understand that that is the problem, but we need to find a solution. I think that money needs to go towards solutions as they won’t happen out of nowhere and we don’t have a big pot of money to spend. I think that a reason and a way to get money would be from ideas such as road pricing, charging the people creating emissions from fossil fuels so that money can go towards more sustainable and easier ways to travel, thereby making cars less appealing and making people want to travel using public transport and modes that will emit less from fossil fuels.
The answer I gave was,
It is a very sound argument and a very sound thing to say that if you charge people for using their cars you can use the money to help them to use alternative transport methods. What we are investigating at the moment, through our Climate Emergency Action Plan, is spending £18m over the next three years in developing alternative modes of transport to move people around our Borough. We can do that without having to charge our residents for using their cars and, if we can fund it without having to charge them then my personal opinion is that we should because we, as motorists, are already taxed very heavily for using our cars in the first place.
Some additional points i should have made;
For me, it is more important to reduce the number of vehicles that we have on our roads on any given day than it is to put in place a means for charging people for using their vehicles in the first place.
Please understand, I am not against the concept of road pricing. I just don’t think that it resolves the reasons why people are using their cars in the first place.
I have seen road charging in London and in other cities and I believe it has been, at least in part, effective in cutting congestion and easing traffic through those cities. For Wokingham, though I am not confident that we would be able to charge a significant sum on a daily basis as a congestion charge. In London the charge is currently £11.50, with an addition sum to be paid in the Ultra Low Emissions Zone. In Wokingham I am not convinced we would be able to charge anywhere near that.
The charge also does not solve the fundamental reasons why residents are driving through our Borough in the first place. We need to find alternative methods for getting residents to our stations, to their workplaces, for getting our children to and from their schools and for getting our shopping. Failure to solve these causes will mean that we aren’t actually being down our carbon footprint, we are merely charging people for their journeys.
I want us to look at alternative transport means before we look at charging. There is some fantastic electric, automated and driverless vehicle technology being developed right now and we need to look at how we utilise them to solve for the reasons why are residents are travelling. Then, and only then will we succeed in reducing our carbon footprint in an achievable, realistic and sustainable way.